One thing that Mark and I have been working on over the last year is learning to ask for comfort and give comfort to one another. What we’re finding is that this increases vulnerability and deepens emotional intimacy.
Before we understood the importance of this, we could keep our emotions to ourselves (except anger which always seemed to have no problem being communicated). If we were anxious, sad, fearful, confused, or grieving we would sort through it on our own. Now we’re taking a risk, sharing what’s going on in our heart, and offering comfort to each other. We’re not attempting to fix the problem, but simply acknowledge that it exists and to sit with one another in it.
The other day I was helping a friend walk through a very difficult situation in her marriage. I was really hurting for her because I knew very well the emotions she was feeling. Instead of shedding tears in isolation, I crawled up on Mark’s lap and said, “I’m really sad for all she is going through.” I cried on his shoulder for a few moments. Words weren’t necessary, just the comfort of his arms was enough.
This weekend Mark shared with me something that he is anxious about. It’s not something I can fix and he didn’t share it with me in order for it to be fixed. He shared it with me so I can know what is weighing on his heart. I appreciated knowing that so I can pray for him and encourage him this week.
If you are looking to take the emotional intimacy level to a deeper place in your marriage, giving comfort is a great place to start.
1) Recognize that it starts with risk. It’s a risk to put your heart out there. If you are on the asking side, it requires courage to be open with what is on your heart. If you are being asked for comfort or understanding, it requires patience and sensitivity to give comfort without moving into “fix it” mode.
2) Learn empathy responses: “I’m sorry you’re sad.” “I’m sure that was hard.” “I’m glad you shared that with me.” “I appreciate knowing that.” “Thank you for trusting me with that.”
3) Help your spouse feel needed. When you trust your spouse with your heart it causes them to feel needed. Everyone wants to be needed in this world.
4) Start with statements that prepare the heart of the listener. “Can you just hold me?” or “I’m feeling ____________ tonight and I just want you to know.” These statements help the one being communicated to to know that you’re not looking for answers, just understanding and comfort.
5) Have a “launching” conversation if comfort hasn’t been part of your relationship. In a time where comfort isn’t needed, an initial conversation could be helpful in establishing a new level to your relationship. Something simple like, “One of the things I’d love for you and I to experience is being able to share our hearts with each other. If we’re sad, anxious, fearful, or even really happy, I’d love for us to be more open. If I’m sad and just need you to hold me or listen to me, I’d like to be able to ask you to do that. I’d love for you to be able to ask me for the same. Would you be willing to give that a try in our relationship?”
What about you? Have you ever worked to increase the comfort ratio in your marriage? What statements have you found helpful to express empathy to your spouse?